The Travel Detective

Airport Design and You

Locations in this article:  Chicago, IL Detroit, MI Fort Lauderdale, FL Miami, FL

Detroit AirportApril 25, 2007

So much about U.S. airports and airport design is counterintuitive. Not long ago, I remember seeing a billboard as I was driving to the Fort Lauderdale airport proudly proclaiming the facility to be “plane friendly.”

A cute, possibly catchy slogan, with one important red flag: what about PEOPLE friendly?

I am now convinced that airports were designed by people who have never flown. It seems that nothing in a real world scenario is ever considered.

So, let’s consider a few things:

How do you travel? With one or two carry-on bags? (Answer for most of us… two.) And if you buy anything at the airport, it can often be three bags.

It’s bad enough that luggage carts aren’t free at most U.S. airports. Still, why aren’t luggage carts placed near airport departure/arrival gates? No one wants to schlep through an airport carrying heavy bags.

Speaking of schlepping…whoever designs moving walkways in terminals hasn’t really thought ahead. Most moving walkways at airport terminals are more decorative than functional. They’re not long enough. They don’t extend through the entire terminal. And many restrict those baggage carts — a double negative.

Why do airport gate areas feature seats with unmovable armrests? Is this an intentional, sadistic move to guarantee that we have no choice but to sleep in the upright position when our flights are inevitably cancelled or delayed?

How about Departure Taxes at foreign airports? I understand this is a source of revenue for foreign countries. But it forces us to stand in yet another line in crowded terminals. Why not simply add it to the cost of our tickets? Additional paperwork and employees filling out forms worked in the 19th century. Not in the 21st.

Air Tran planePaying for Wi-Fi at airports. I am writing this while sitting in the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica. Wireless internet is free here. As it should be.

And, credit where credit is due: it’s also free in the Fort Lauderdale Airport. But not in Miami. Free in Augusta, Georgia’s airport, but not in Chicago. This is absurd.

Why do the major airports continue to charge, and the smaller airports are free? It makes no sense, until you begin to figure out the mindset of airport operators trying to drive revenue.

Their thinking is they should push for as much short-term revenue from passengers as possible. You’re a captive audience, so they figure you’ll pay. But consider this: at airports where WiFi is free, concession revenues soar throughout the terminal.

Why? Because when you’re sitting working on your computer, you will eat, you will drink…you’ll feel good about the experience.

One of the reasons I do my best to boycott Miami and fly to Fort Lauderdale has as much to do with the operation of the two airports (Fort Lauderdale is NOT the last flight out of Saigon…) as it has to do with the cost of wireless.

I do it on principle. And you should, too.

By Peter Greenberg for

For more from Peter, check out his Travel Detective Blog.

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